An Unsung Heroine: Rozaria Marumisa Dizha (1923-2006)
She was born in 1923, to parents Alois Marumisa and Francisca Zaranyika, in Murewa. She attended 3 years of schooling at St Martins, Magaya primary school. She graduated a 3rd grade student, enthusiastic, and highly performing. Unfortunately, she reluctantly dropped out of school. Barely 16, she was being married off!
Her parents had found her a husband, the late Peter Muzhanje Dizha. Rozaria had no choice, since arranged marriages were the norm. She had to learn to grow in love with her husband, with whom she gave birth to 11 children. All her life, she lamented the lack of opportunity to continue with her education, she aspired to have achieved so many things. “Dai ndakadzidza…” was her daily preface when she faced exclusion based on her illiteracy and poverty.
In growing up, Rozaria had a fair share of the tribulations that face many girls in rural and traditional Zimbabwe. Her parents worked with missionaries and spent years at All Souls Mission in Mutoko. This early exposure was crucial for Rozaria, for her spirituality and her value for education. Her father left the missionary work, and married a second wife. Polygamy as an institution always traumatizes children.
She witnessed the fights that her mother had to go through, and the abuses that she and her siblings had to endure. Her parents finally divorced, leaving her to care for her siblings, 3 brothers and 2 sisters. She stayed with her grand-mother, Vahoso, who essentially was her sole comfort and mentor. When her father arranged her marriage to Peter Muzhanje Dizha, she had no options, choice or say.
In addition, she had to bring her youngest brother Fabian with her to this new family. She always exclaimed with raw pain, the sad memories of her teenage life.
In her early married life, Rozaria had now to raise her own family, and also continue to care for her siblings. Her mother re-married, and disappeared for years, staying in farms and doing menial labour. Those were the painful years of silence. One day, her youngest sister who had gone with her mother, arrived home, with a baby girl in her arms.
She was retarded, sick, frail and dying. Rozaria had to take her in, and care for her for months before this young woman sadly passed away. Again Rozaria was left with an infant in her arms, whom she took in as her own.
She also had a baby boy of the same age, 3 months old. She now had twins whom she had to feed, raise and give life and love.
Her husband had short stints of work as a waiter in Harare. No decent jobs for African young men during the war. Together they tilled the land and raised the children. They valued education, discipline, hard work and prayer. In 1970, the eldest son came home with a mental illness.
For years, Rozaria and Peter did all they could to treat, heal and support him. Their son now married and with children only got worse, and yet they refused to institutionalize him. Love, care and family support was the only way they could continue to care for their first child.
They sold all their cattle, and valuables to raise the necessary funds to help their child. Peter Muzhanje died in 1978, living Rozaria to continue the journey alone for the next 28 years. It was during the thick of the war of liberation.
Rozaria had to ensure that the children remained in school, that they were safe and at the same time had to provide food for the larger extended family. One of her daughters was arrested by the Rhodesian soldiers and sentenced to twenty years in prison, under the martial law.
Rozaria held steadfast onto her Rosary and prayers. With attainment of independence, there was hope in Rozaria and her children for jobs, free education and health care. The children were growing up and had now started to care and provide for each other – a big relief for Rozaria, who had struggled all her life to raise her children and support her siblings.
During the 1990s, when she thought she had struggled enough, her children were grown and she could now enjoy the fruits of her labour, the HIV and AIDS scourge arrived on her doorstep. She had to care for her three children and grandson who subsequently succumbed to AIDS related illness.
It was a pain to see her children in pain. She again had to roll up her sleeves and care for the orphans, and the grandchildren. With the history of mental illness in her family, her eldest daughter had also become ill and was on medicine, ostracized and alone in the village. Mbuya Rozaria even in that old age, would ensure a visit once so often. This was calming support to her daughter and her children.
She never gave up on love and education.
All these years, she supported children to go to school, to help each other, entrench the values of ubuntu and social care. A close knit family she had. At her death in 2006, she had over 80 grand children and great grandchildren, all drawing some aspect of their lives on this amazing rural woman, and expert in managing stress and trauma.
In all the years, Mbuya Rozaria remained an ardent community leader. She was an active member of the Roman Catholic Church, participating in the women and youth meetings.
She was involved in community development meetings, and was always present at village events. Neighbours, relatives and friends adored her. The multitude that came to mourn her was a testimony of how far her influence and reach. The most memorable moment was her first and only trip to Kenya, in 2005.
It is in honor of this great woman, that her children, friends and family established Rozaria Memorial Trust.